I think by now that everyone is already aware of my aversion to slow, variable aperture universal zooms, and it was disheartening to see just how many who picked up the Lumix GH5 decided to go with one of the slow zooms being peddled by Panasonic reps rather than picking up a fast prime or two. The difference between shooting with the Leica 12mm f/1.4 compared to the wide end of the Lumix 12-35mm f/2.8 is like night and day, and I haven’t seen any images from the 12-60mm f/2.8-4 that have blown me away as have either the Olympus 75mm f/1.8 or the Leica 42.5mm f/1.2. I’m not a bokeh whore by any means, but I’m not overly fond of the bokeh I’ve seen from some of these variable aperture zooms either – it’s busy and distracting. And I’m not at all convinced that a more moderate 24-70mm full frame equivalent lens is a disadvantage, especially after seeing some breathtaking images of Nepal shot with the Samsung NX-1 and 16-50mm f/2-28 the other day. As a matter of fact, what I am seeing too often by those with longer zooms is a certain timidity, a lack of intimacy, almost a determination not to approach and confront subjects, but to shoot them from afar: and the viewer is relegated to the position of an outsider rather than a participant. I mention in my vlog how scarce good videos shot with the premium primes are: on the other hand, there is far too much footage shot with these variable aperture zooms in harsh daylight where the user doesn’t even bother with an ND filter, so it’s even often difficult to fairly assess the quality of these lenses. I’m also seeing an over-reliance on IBIS or OIS or both, resulting in jittery footage, when at the very least, out of courtesy to the viewer, the poster could have brought along a lightweight yet sturdy monopod for support.
Very few lenses in the m43 catalogue have impressed me as much as the Leica DG Summilux 12mm f/1.4. First of all, it is exceedingly difficult to design a micro four thirds lens of such parameters; and while there have been several very good wide angle primes designed for the system, none have exactly smashed resolution records. And no matter their actual resolution, I’ve never been able to get satisfyingly crisp images from either the wide end of my Panasonic X Vario 12-35mm f/2.8 or my Voigtlander Nokton 17.5mm f/.95. I know they’re capable of delivering detailed shots, it’s just that I’ve never managed to get truly sharp pictures with either of those lenses; while other lenses in my collection, the Olympus 75mm f/1.8 and Sigma DC DN 30mm f/1.4, have never failed to produce dazzlingly sharp images; the verdict is still out on my Olympus 25mm f/1.2. The Leica now earns its place as one of those lenses that is virtually bulletproof.
It took me months to decide to purchase the Leica 12mm f/1.4 – firstly, because I seldom shoot ultrawide, and secondly, because there has been next to no convincing work online to make me want to drop $1,300 on an unknown quantity. And not a single video I had seen taken with the Leica could persuade me that it was any better than the modestly priced Samyang 12mm f/2, so highly praised in the online community. One thing that held me back from getting the Samyang though is that an aperture of f/2 does not really allow you to play with depth of field on a wide prime, and I prefer autofocus lenses for the kind of work I do, which is street photography and vlogging. So I felt I was taking a huge gamble when I ultimately decided to pull the trigger on the Leica. And now that I own it, I believe 12mm is a perfect focal length for vlogging from home or out on the street with a gimbal: at home, because it gives me more flexibility with lighting and allows me to sit near the microphone; outdoors, because it is light enough to be flown on a single-handed gimbal, and even when holding my arm outstretched, the field of view is able to encompass the top of my head to my shoulders. And whether mounted on a tripod or shooting handheld, wide open or at f/4-5.6, the Leica has consistently delivered insanely sharp detail. It also produces some very beautiful bokeh. And the build quality of the current lineup of Leica lenses surpasses that of most other micro four thirds lenses. I understand that the lens is expensive, most good glass is; I’m also aware that many reading this already have a wide angle zoom that covers 12mm: but I would still recommend this lens to anyone who wants to realize the full potential of the micro four thirds sensor.
While watching the video, two things stand out: one, that I’m a sexy beast, and two, that this really isn’t a test of the autofocus or of the stabilizer at all. My real reason for sharing this was to demonstrate that, for most purposes, AF-S is good enough for vlogging out on the street. It should also be immediately apparent what a crazy sharp lens the Leica is. I was also pleasantly surprised at the audio from the built-in microphone of the G85, though it’s no substitute for an external microphone. I’m still trying to come to grips with vlogging and walking around my neighborhood with a camera and talking to myself.
And here is a highly entertaining and informative guide to alternative vlogging lenses.